lunes, 15 de febrero de 2010

Sor Juana for Beginners I: Sátira filosófica en redondillas

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

I'm not a Sor Juana expert by any means, and I definitely don't enjoy the syllable-counting exercises that poetry freaks seem to live for.  However, I love, love, love the little I've read of Sor Juana's works over the years and am fascinated by her biography.  So who is Sor Juana, you ask?  The short answer is that she was a 17th-century Mexican poet (c. 1650-1694 or 1651-1695 depending on which of two books you choose to believe) who spent most of her life in a convent.  She was sometimes referred to as "the 10th muse" by her many admirers.  She closes out Elías L. Rivers' collection of Spanish Renaissance poetry, Poesía lírica del Siglo de Oro [Lyric Poetry of the Golden Age] (Cátedra, 1979 and 2004), an important distinction considering that she's the only New World writer to appear in that volume of Iberian peninsula greats.  By my math, that makes her the first great poet of the post-Conquest Americas and the last great poet of Spain's Siglo de Oro.  She might also have been the New World's first feminist--or at least a feminist avant la lettre.  In any event, you can decide that for yourself with the following poem, presented first in the original Spanish and then in translation (note: a redondilla is a poem written in stanzas of four octosyllabic verses with rhymes on the first and fourth lines and second and third lines; while the translation lacks some of the argumentative insistency to be enjoyed when you read the original out loud in Spanish--you can almost picture Sor Juana scoring points in a debate or in a court of law--I think it does a great job of capturing the spirit of the poem).


     Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis:
     si con ansia sin igual
solicitáis su desdén,
¿por qué queréis que obren bien
si las incitáis al mal?
     Combatís su resistencia
y luego, con gravedad
decís que fue liviandad
lo que hizo la diligencia.
     Parecer quiere el denuedo
de vuestro parecer loco,
al niño que pone el coco
y luego le tiene miedo.
     Queréis, con presunción necia,
hallar a la que buscáis,
para pretendida, Thais,
y en la posesión, Lucrecia.
     ¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
que el que, falto de consejo,
él mismo empaña el espejo,
y siente que no esté claro?
     Con el favor y el desdén
tenéis condición igual,
quejándoos, si os tratan mal,
burlándoos, si os quieren bien.
     Opinión, ninguna gana;
pues la que más se recata,
si no os admite, es ingrata,
y si os admite, es liviana.
     Siempre tan necios andáis
que, con desigual nivel,
a una culpáis por crüel
y a otra por fácil culpáis.
     ¿Pues cómo ha de estar templada
la que vuestro amor pretende,
si la que es ingrata, ofende,
y la que es fácil, enfada?
     Mas, entre el enfado y pena
que vuestro gusto refiere,
bien haya la que no os quiere
y quejaos en hora buena.
     Dan vuestras amantes penas
a sus libertades alas,
y después de hacerlas malas
las queréis hallar muy buenas.
     ¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
en una pasión errada:
la que cae de rogada,
o el que ruega de caído?
     ¿O cuál es más de culpar,
aunque cualquiera mal haga:
la que peca por la paga,
o el que paga por pecar?
     Pues ¿para qué os espantáis
de la culpa que tenéis?
Queredlas cual las hacéis
o hacedlas cual las buscáis.
     Dejad de solicitar,
y después, con más razón,
acusaréis la afición
de la que os fuere a rogar.
     Bien con muchas armas fundo
que lidia vuestra arrogancia,
pues en promesa e instancia
juntáis diablo, carne y mundo.

You Men [translator unknown]

     Silly, you men--so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.

     After you've won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave--
you, that coaxed her into shame.

     You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.

     When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you're the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.

     Presumptuous beyond belief,
you'd have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.

     For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it's not clear?

     Whether you're favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
you sneer if you've been gratified.

     With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she's bound to lose;
spurning you, she's ungrateful--
succumbing, you call her lewd.

     Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.

     What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?

     Still, whether it's torment or anger--
and both ways you've yourselves to blame--
God bless the woman who won't have you,
no matter how loud you complain.

     It's your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.

     So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?

     Or which is more to be blamed--
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?

     So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
or make of them what you can like.

     If you'd give up pursuing them,
you'd discover, without a doubt,
you've a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.

I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!

This poem appears here in honor of the México 2010 Reading Challenge hosted by Sylvia of Classical Bookworm.  More Sor Juana stuff, both in prose and verse, coming soon.

10 comentarios:

  1. Another Sor Juana poem, in Spanish and English, is discussed here.

    the syllable-counting exercises that poetry freaks seem to live for? Names, please!

  2. Sor Juana sounds fascinating! Is much known about her biography? The poem you included seems ahead of its time, even stylistically - I think of this type of rhyming, evenly-metered "argument" poem as belonging more to the 18th century than the 17th, although I know almost nothing about 17th century poetry (I think I'm limited to Donne and Milton). And I love your vision of her delightedly scoring points in a debate! :-)

  3. Amateur Reader, that's one of the sonnets I wanted to--and probably still will--run here later in the week, though you put more work into your post than I will in mine, ha ha. Nice job! The syllable-counting thing was mostly a jab at former teachers of mine (all great otherwise, by the way) so no names will be provided. I'm sure you'll understand. :D

  4. Emily, I thought you might find Sor Juana appealing--and she was ahead of her time in so many ways! Octavio Paz has a thick bio on her called Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith which I hope to dip into again before too long, and María Luisa Bemberg has a biopic (uneven but worth watching) called I, the Worst of All that should be fairly readily available. Lots of good resources online, too. Glad you liked the debate thing!

  5. I love this! But it does cause one to wonder if she went to the convent voluntarily or was placed there?

  6. Emily - poetically, Sor Juana is more at the end of a tradition than the beginning. It sounds like you're ready for the miracle that is Spanish Golden Age poetry. St. John of the Cross, Fray Luis de Léon! Góngorism!

    The post I link to here features the Luis de Góngora sonnet that Sor Juana is responding to in the post I link to up above. The two poems are sixty or seventy years apart.

  7. *Jill: I don't remember the details well, but I believe Sor Juana actually entered the convent as a way to continue to pursue her studies and avoid marriage (a sad commentary on what opportunities were available to women in New Spain at that time). She was eventually "silenced" as a writer, so to speak, because of a religious dispute brought on by a third party and the loss of a powerful patron. Glad you liked the poem and I hope my sketchy memories of the biographical details aren't too far from the truth!

    *Amateur Reader: Thanks for stepping in! Golden Age poetry--and poetry in general, for that matter--isn't one of my strong suits, so I appreciate your enthusiasm and input.

  8. Hola, Richard, este poema es uno de los más famosos de Sor Juana, tan incisiva al hablar de la conducta masculina y sus consecuencias en ese entorno machista.
    Fue una mujer incomprendida por haberse adelantado a su tiempo, perseguida por la religión, pero estudiosa incansable.
    La Respuesta a sor Filotea de la Cruz (en realidad a un sacedote que la presionaba para que dejara las letras y atendiera en cambio las tareas del convento), es una magnífica defensa que hace en base a su condición de mujer interesada en estudiar y en los estorbos que tuvo que enfrentar por su condición femenina; el único texto autobiográfico con que contamos para saber más sobre ella.
    ¡Un saludo!!

  9. I love the poem - thank you so much for sharing it. And thank you also for bringing Sor Juana to my attention. Her life does sound fascinating. From what I've read on the historical of early feminists, it was not at all uncommon for women to enter convents to have an opportunity to devote themselves to intellectual pursuits - though that's a sad commentary on the state of things indeed.

  10. *Hola Andrómeda: Aunque leí la Respuesta a Sor Filotea hace años, voy a leerla de nuevo como un deber para el reto México 2010. De acuerdo con todo lo que dices, pero ¡gracias por entusiarme en espera de la relectura! ¡Saludos!

    *Hi Nymeth: I wasn't really aware of how common it was to join a convent for this reason, but it makes perfect sense now that you mention it. In any event, glad you liked the poem and I hope you'll be back for another Sor Juana post or two when the time comes. Cheers!